Participatory Design And Web Development: How A Collaborative Approach Can Improve Results

Marrying professional expertise with end user feedback to improve usability and audience acceptance

23May

As its name implies, participatory design is the process of including multiple parties in the process of creation. At its core, it is focused on ensuring that the end product is one that meets a variety of goals, fulfills myriad functions, and is usable and accessible by all communities involved. In the context of web design, taking a participatory approach means allowing customers to work directly with experts to create an interface that is both user-friendly and intuitive.

This concept is contrary to standard and traditional web design, in which a professional creates a mockup based on what he or she perceives will meet the user’s needs. Instead, the input is gathered from the users themselves, helping to ensure that work is not wasted and that all resources are being used appropriately to bring the project to fruition.

The History of Participatory Design and Technology

Though the concept of participatory design has been around for decades and has been embraced as a cornerstone of many European governments, notably for its use in helping local communities play an active role in urban and rural development projects, it didn’t gain traction in the global technology sphere until the mid-to-late 2000s.

During this time period, a method of software development known as Extreme Programming (XP) was developed. In this technique, experts from different industry fields would band together to create interactive software products that were smarter and sleeker than their counterparts, primarily because they had such valuable and widespread input. That model of collaborative design caught on and quickly became a mainstay in the web and software design world.

Why It’s Important for Web Developers

At its core, a web designer or developer’s role is to anticipate the pain points and issues of relevance to an end user and then design an online solution that meets those needs. Yet, to succeed at this attempt, the developers must first understand the end user themselves. What information are they looking for? What are some common roadblocks that they typically run into? What are they looking to see done differently from another company? Knowing the answers to these types of questions is key, and all of the coding and testing in the world could prove fruitless if they aren’t found.

How to Implement a Participatory Design Strategy

When it comes to implementing a participatory web design strategy, developers can take a variety of routes. Some businesses might opt to include consumers and other end users right from the onset, and allow them to take a hands-on role in the design process from the very beginning, starting at the proposal and development phases. When this method is chosen, every step in the process can be done in tandem with gathering audience input. Or, a company might choose to bring in consumers at select points during the design and development process. For instance, a comprehensive user review during the final testing phase can prove helpful to make sure a design is successful. Or, one toward the middle of the process, during development, can help designers make sure their creation is user-friendly.

Regardless of the timeframe deployed, the most important element is making sure that at some point during the design creation, consideration is given to how the website will actually be used by customers. As long as their feedback is gathered, the amount and frequency of it can vary. Companies may even decide to pay a focus group or offer other incentives for participation if required.

Five Benefits of Deploying Participatory Design

Apart from the obvious benefit of helping web designers understand their end users and target audience members better, a participatory design also affords companies several other positives. For one, it puts a fresh set of eyes on a web project. After spending countless hours on a design, a professional might begin to feel burned out and miss a few errors or become so engrossed in the mechanics of the process that usability issues are neglected. As such, a participatory design gives the expert a break and allows the project to be analyzed by someone who isn’t as attached to it. Often, this form of unbiased review can unearth pain points and inefficiencies far better than an in-depth technical review can.

Additionally, taking a proactive participatory design approach can help companies ensure the ultimate success of their end product. When it goes through not only rigorous professional and technical testing but also formal and informal reviews by the end users themselves, you can rest assured that your product or service will resonate with the public and generate high approval ratings with them.

Ultimately, web designers are seeking to create a final product that will make online navigation as simple and seamless for the user. To this end, participatory design can prove immeasurably useful by injecting a valuable, third-party perspective into the mix and encouraging a spirit of fruitful collaboration. When forward-thinking minds are combined, the possibilities are endless and that holds true in the technology sphere as well. 

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